E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

From the blog

A World Without Email – Year 3, Weeks 9 to 10 (EMail’s Reign Is Over, Social Networking Is The New King)

Gran Canaria - Arguineguin - Playa de las Marañuelas in the SpringI wasn’t planning on putting together another blog post so soon on the (no longer) weekly progress reports on my initiative of living "A World Without Email", but then again late last week, and over the course of the weekend, I saw on my Twitter stream a whole bunch of retweets on what I thought was (Still is!) a rather interesting reading: "CHARTS OF THE WEEK: Email’s Reign Is Over, Social Networking Is The New King". But then it got better when my good friend David Tebbutt followed it up with this rather insightful tweet:

"I said this headline – Email’s reign is over http://bit.ly/cfHLbD – vindicated @elsua . On the graph, email must head south before it does"

So I thought I would come back to the topic and share with you folks what has happened in the last couple of weeks as well as a new report I have put together which I am sure you would find rather interesting. To answer David’s insightful (And rather spot on!) comments with just a single thought I would probably state the following: Yes, email *is* heading south pretty consistently, and badly, over the last three years! At least, for me!

Now, here is the longer story. To get things going let me just point to Year 3, Week #9, and then check out Week #10, embedded below:

A World Without Email - Year 3, Week 10

As you would be able to see, the last couple of weeks I have received well under 20 work emails per week! Yes, I know! Way below 20!! Which I think is a terrific piece of news, since in most cases I would reach such low numbers on the second half of the year; and lo and behold, here we are, on the second quarter of the year and already way below that 20 email per week mark!! But it gets better …

If you check further the various different weeks, you may have noticed, how, except for two of them (With 24 and 25 emails per week, respectively!) the remaining weeks haven’t reached over 20 emails per week at all. A couple of them are actually below 15 emails a week! Whoahhh! That’s just brilliant! And incredibly exciting to see how year in, year out, my work related emails become less and less of a worry to me.

Ok, to answer David’s comment about how email needs to start heading south before we can pronounce it dead (And most of you folks know it’s not a wording I enjoy much, since I still see benefits in making use of email for 1:1 private, confidential interactions and calendaring & scheduling of events), but still playing long with the wording from that link, I thought I would share with you a new chart I have put together where you can see the first 10 weeks for each of the three years where I have given up on corporate email, and eventually moved over to social networking tools.

If there would be a rather revealing report I bet it would be this one. Without any doubt! And here is why:

A World Without Email - A Comparative of 3 Weeks During First Three Years

Take a look at the number of emails received per week, per year, for those first 10 weeks I shared above. You will be able to see how there is a rather substantial reduction in the amount of incoming emails, going from 60 as the highest number of emails for those three years in a single week to just 7 on the third year, as the lowest amount of emails received in a single week so far. But let’s see another interesting set of statistics:

  • Year 2008:  418 emails received for the first 10 weeks
  • Year 2009:  255 emails received for the first 10 weeks
  • Year 2010:  170 emails received for the first 10 weeks

I’m not sure what you would think, but going from 418 emails per week (for the first 10 weeks!) on the first year, down to 170 for that same period of time on the third year is rather remarkable and, in my opinion, a clear sign, that, at least, for me, email *is* heading south on that link to that chart, and that can only mean a good thing: that, finally, I’m now capable of worrying about other things work related and email is not one of them. Isn’t that a wonderful feeling?

The best part though is yet to come … It’d be that one when I’m no longer alone on this one. And, by the looks of it, I suspect it’s not going to take much time anymore. It’s happening more and more often by the day with other knowledge workers out there and I guess very very soon I may have a good bunch of success stories to share with you folks on how other people have managed to give up successfully on their corporate email.

Are you ready to make the big jump? If not, what is it that you are waiting for? Aren’t you making already good use of social networking tools as your core default business tools?

Maybe you should…

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7 comments

  1. Interesting stats there, hard to argue.

    For those whose companies/workplaces that are blocking or threatening to block employee access to social media apps, I’d like to share this helpful whitepaper. It’s called “To Block or Not. Is that the question?”

    http://bit.ly/9f8WOT

    It has lots of insightful and useful information about identifying and controlling Enterprise 2.0 apps (Facebook, Twitter, Skype, SharePoint, etc.)

    Long live social media apps on the enterprise network!

    1. Hi Lisa, thanks for dropping by as well and for sharing your insights over here! I have gone through that link and the whitepaper sounds really interesting and a worth while read; however, when signing up it asks me for my US state and I live overseas; without that field filled in I cannot proceed further, I am afraid. Is there a way we can bypass this?

      Like I said, I would love to read the whitepaper, but if we can’t sign up for it, it’s going to be slightly difficult. Thanks for looking into it and for the advice; much appreciated!

  2. Before getting too excited about the imminent death of email it might be worth having a word with your legal department, especially if you have any business interests in the USA, whether you are located there or not. The laws of evidence around emails and the extent to which they are a legal document are complex. Emails have disclaimers on them for good reasons. Do you have a similar disclaimer on your social media communications? Ignorance of the law is no defence in court.

    1. Hi Martin! Thanks a lot for the great feedback comments and for dropping by! That’s exactly one of the various reasons why I’m not very much in favour of stating “email is dead”, because I don’t think it is; and it won’t be any time soon! However, that doesn’t mean that we cannot see a substantial amount of email volume reduction over the course of time as most open, public conversations tend to take place elsewhere.

      I happen to be one of those lucky? people that works for an American company, is based overseas, but doesn’t have to go through thoat legal audits justifying interactions happening through email. In fact, it’s been months since last time I got an email sent out to me and flagged as confidential.

      So, yes, I can imagine those folks whose job depends on those kind of edits it’ll become a bit of a challenge for them to eventually reduce their incoming email volume, for sure, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Quite the opposite, which is what I have been trying to demonstrate over the last three years; that, after all, there is a life after email out there waiting for people to engage in much more open, transparent and public interactions.

      Thanks again for the great feedback! 🙂

  3. Luis;

    Interesting graphic which I’d suggest has many different possible interpretations, some which may or may not support your theory that emails is going away. In many corporate settings where one on one communication still reins, social networking software usage and global impact– particularly for revenue generators– remains relegated to a distraction versus being used as a critical business tool. Here’s some hard facts on how our growing global company is using email:

    1) Sales reps and retail locations continue to see month over month increases in the 15% range on the numbers of email messages sent and received.

    2) In the past year alone, these critical revenue generators have increased these counts by over 100%, to some substantial degree because of a switch away from legacy mail products to Notes/Domino (web access and imap)

    3) Although wireless email is provided to the remote sales force, their system of choice for sending/receiving has increasingly been iNotes/DWA (we do not provide them full clients).

    Why? Because it works, consistently and smoothly the vast majority of the time. It is efficient and does not require lots of time for users to maintain it. Also because it is private, directed to a specific audience, and is one on one. It is also subject to existing corporate rules and governance, regarding policies, retention, ediscovery etc.

    Social software has some substantial challenges in our culture, including:

    1) It is a largely unmoderated, open, free-for-all kind of experience that lends itself to the personal, non-work related content that facebook and others do well in that context. Unmoderated content and content which does not directly relate to a specific business process, revenue stream or business problem has much less value for a lean business working very hard to keep up with our customer’s needs, and it presents substantial potential liabilities with respect to undesirable, non-business behaviors and content. Those risks can translate into substantial difficulties (think HR…) and the rewards– for us– vs the risks are currently not anywhere close to justifying the cost.

    2) Cost: Products like Connections for example, are not cheap, they are rather expensive. The ROI on Jimmy from accounting sharing his thoughts on GAAP with Marcela in internal audit, for all to see, is a difficult value proposal with a return which is difficult to quantify or justify if they can do the same thing, but privately, via email.

    3) Time: It is not surprising that the graphic you link above shows people are spending MORE time using (aka updating??) their social software sites vs using email. That’s not always a good thing in a corporate setting; people spending more time sharing critical business information including how many miles they ran last week, or how big the bass was they caught in vacation, is not really a good use of company time. Social software creates a time-sinkhole that we, as a company, are deliberately avoiding. Sure there is great content alot, and that time spent does have some true ROI, but in aggregate, I’m not sure that would be true. Email increasingly can provide a quick, efficient, private method to convey specific information of specific business value and does not require so much “maintenance” of one’s social software identity.

    4) Liability: like it or not, social software is the latest/greatest service to come down the pike for people eager to litigate, and drive costs of ediscovery even higher than they already are. (For example see here –>> http://www.applieddiscovery.com/ws_display.asp?filter=Blog_Detail&item_id=%7B85E3C478%2DC493%2D452A%2D8BA2%2D632F0757154F%7D ) Companies subject to US laws allowing access to public social sites are increasingly being asked to discover, defend and absorb the costs of employee behaviors which may have nothing to do with the business of the company, and that will remain a net negative whenever it occurs UNLESS the value of the revenue gained from these sites exceeds the costs of litigation expenses around them.

    1. Hi Dan! Many thanks for those wonderful arguments and for adding further up into the conversation! WOW! There’s lots to comment on that one single comment. For sure! So I will try to be brief and perhaps develop further on some of those thoughts on upcoming blog post(s). Appreciate the time to write down such a wonderful lengthy comment and look forward to plenty more! So, let’s go!

      RE: 1), 2) & 3) Yes, email may be growing fast and furious for your Sales reps and retail locations, but how many of those emails are actually content vs. notifications to other systems where the information / content is contained. The fact you are getting more email doesn’t mean that relevant content resides in them; there’s a growing trend of people receiving what’s known as BACN which cannot be denied, nor neglect it; it’s helping email come back to its origins when it used to be a notification / messaging and not a content repository.

      Another interesting story with regards to email is the following one; what happens when those Sales reps decide to leave the company or move into other projects? Let’s think leaving the company. What happens to all of that wealth of information and knowledge that is stored in their private, secretive email repositories? I am not sure about you folks, but in the company I work for, the moment someone leaves the company their email address and mail file gets automatically deleted with no backup, no track to it anymore and all of that knowledge is now gone! For good! With social software tools most of that knowledge is retained AND available to everyone out there. Knowledge remains in the company; imagine the cost savings of not having to train people (Again!), or sharing information and knowledge across with them, etc. etc. That, one its own, justifies, entirely the use of social tools BEHIND the corporate firewall.

      I saw this as first hand experience when I transitioned from one company country to another and realized I didn’t have anything to lose; it was all out there on the company’s cloud social environment, readily for me to pick it up again and already benefiting the rest of the company. Minor impact; my mail file is currently under 40MB (Of which nearly half of that is the mail file template, as you well know). The rest is out there ready to be consumed and reused by others.

      I have yet to see a consistent strategy based on email that helps facilitate both knowledge transfer and retention of people’s experiences and know-how; because somehow the way things are now is that once those employees are gone, their knowledge is gone, too! They have taken it with them and their mail boxes are deleted (That’s the HR process) without looking back! Ouch!!

      RE: 1), 2) & 3), I think you need to make a distinction between external social software tools, like Facebook, that you quote, and internal social software tools; there is plenty of “control”, believe me, inside of the internal social tools, but not in the same structured command-and-control we are used to. Unstructured knowledge, chaotic, if you push me, is just as beneficial as that one that is structured; why? Mainly, because without social tools most of it would be passing by undocumented and as such you can consider it lost. And that, I am afraid, is a risk that not many companies would be willing to go for as we enter the knowledge economy, where what would rule would how a company manages, and facilitates!, that knowledge transfer across the board.

      The case of Facebook is something that we should start abandoning and pretty soon; Facebook is not social networking for business (How many people have read FB’s ToS?); quite the opposite; we need to focus on social tools, both internal and external where real business is happening.

      Nevermind that it’s also about time that we need to start letting go that command-and-control attitude most businesses have been having, because failure to do so is basically going to keep, consistently, plenty of knowledge hidden away from those knowledge workers who don’t feel comfortable working on an environment where they feel they are not trusted. There are lots of hidden talent out there in the corporate world! Let’s not just keep obscuring it time and time again anymore, please.

      RE: costs from social tools (i.e. Connections); I’m not in a position to comment on the pricing of most of those social tools, but have you stopped to measure the real impact of using email systems with regards to what *really* happens when all of that knowledge is gone? Disappears as people move on and take it with them? How come not a single business has done that kind of research in the past, very much tight in with Knowledge Management altogether? I tell you why… Because the amount of millions of USD that go wasted would be far too overwhelming to face that reality; so not so sure that social tools are too costly, to be honest, if you look into the long term, larger picture …

      RE: time, that’s why most companies are introducing social computing guidelines (You can google the IBM’s ones, if you haven’t seen them just yet), which are very very clear on how knowledge workers should be making use of these social tools for work (For their own personal time, in *their own* time is another matter that no business has got anything to do with it; again that issue of trust, if you try to control such behaviours as well). Once you have those guidelines it’s almost impossible to ignore the fact of how these social tools could be use for good business reasons.

      And, believe me, if an employee wants to goof around, they are going to consistently do it, whether they use social tools, or email or the telephone, or the water cooler; we have seen it for decades and that’s not going to change things. However, it highlights one key interesting and crucial item: how happy are your employees with their work (Interesting, rewarding, challenging, learning experience, etc. etc.) that they are using (social) tools to goof around and not doing work; I think that’s a much more fundamental question that needs to be answered on employee engagement and how to help encourage the right atmosphere within the work environment.

      Oh, and let’s not forget about the huge impact of Social Capital (i.e. Sharing of those tidbits that you referred to as not work related); they are crucial; fundamental from any KM strategy as a way to foster good, trustworthy relationships amongst knowledge workers who can then collaborate and share their knowledge much easier that if trust weren’t there. That social capital is helping people build further up on their work relationships adding a specific context: that one that would help trust flourish, and, as you well know, we get to work the closest, and the best, with those folks who we trust the most; so how are we going to trust people who we do not know in the first place and have never been given an opportunity to build those social relationships.

      Remember, this is nothing new, I am afraid; that was the whole purpose of the water cooler back in the days where people would be catching up with one another over a cup of coffee, or two!, while at the office; the difference is that water cooler is now virtual and the conversations are much larger in scale, but equally, if not more!, beneficial!

      I am not saying that social software tools are the silver bullet that will help fix all of our current business problems; probably they won’t; but why don’t we just let them work their magic through our businesses processes and see what they can do; after all current business models from over the last few decades haven’t delivered much good, have they? (If we look into the already existing economic situation, that is). To me, social tools certainly are the gatekeepers to the knowledge economy of the 21st century, helping re-surface knowledge, information, experiences, know-how, lessons learned, etc, etc, that earlier on were not even impossible to have available to us right at our fingertips.

      Thanks again for the wonderful comments and for adding further up into the discussion; greatly appreciated all the input!

  4. Luis, have you ever posted the Excel with all those numbers so that statistically minded people could play with the numbers?

    Hah! No need, I can cull it from the Flickr images. When I play a bit, it becomes clearer that you have gone through some epochs of improvement. All of 2008 was a downward trend from 40/week to 25/week. 2009 was mostly stable around 25/week, with the end of 2009 and beginning of 2010 dropping down to below 20/week. And that same period at the end seems to have less volatility.

    Here’s a picture… http://www.flickr.com/photos/jackvinson/4542465536/

    Next, you need to generate the same picture that shows how much you do in the social software world. And does it mean anything to compare?

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